June 29, 2008, Updated September 13, 2012

Diving freely: Sea-Eye Underwater Technology is developing a new communication system without cables for deep-sea divers.The ocean’s surface often evokes a feeling of tranquility in people. But underneath, it’s a different story: undersea communication cables, platforms for oil rigs, sewage valves and pumps are in need of constant supervision. It’s the job of deep-sea divers to take the plunge, checking things out and even undertaking repairs.

Because of technological limitations it’s been difficult for ships to communicate with those divers – but with the Israeli startup Sea-Eye Underwater’s wireless underwater video transmission system, companies responsible for maintaining underwater infrastructure will have an easier time getting the information they need.

There are other video communication systems on the market that do work underwater, but current technology requires divers to be tethered to a ship. Cables limit a diver’s ability to maneuver as necessary and limit the range of transmission.

Sea-Eye’s founder Ilia Vainstein believes he has found the solution to wireless, full color, real time streaming video, using an acoustic modem based on ultrasound technology. Vainstein and his team’s communications expert Yuri Medvedovski and algorithm whiz Sergei Chizevsky, say that the new modem can expand the bandwidth and range of undersea communications, making it more robust.

Because underwater wireless communication has been limited — it’s barely good enough for audio, much less video transmission — it hasn’t really been a viable option for constant underwater communications with diving teams. In the best case, underwater wireless transmits at about 10-20kbits/sec, far from what is needed to transmit real time video, allowing only black and white stills to be sent back up.

With cables, where the communication range is the length of the cables, there too, the bandwidth is insufficient to handle real time full color video, which would be a great advantage for divers and land or ship crews, since they would be able to more easily guide divers, assess problems, and implement solutions.

Divers using video cameras tethered by cable to a ship can transmit back non-streaming images – as much as one frame over a period of several seconds, depending on the range – but this quality is hardly sufficient for intense diagnosis of a problem.

Sea-Eye’s system solves previous limitations by combining new advances in signal processing and video compression – available only in the past couple of years – and have made real time full color undersea broadcasts a reality.

The modem developed by the Sea-Eye team allows a data transmission rate of up to 150kbits/sec on carrier frequency between 300KHz and 1MHz, rates which are much more robust than is available elsewhere. In addition, Sea-Eye has developed algorithms to cope with underwater signal transmission problems such as multi-path reflection and Doppler effects, enabling streaming video or voice broadcasting to proceed unimpeded. This ensures much higher quality real time communication.

Vainstein plans to market modems in the near future with transmission ranges of up to 300-500 meters. “For divers that need to be in communication with a ship above them, this is perfect, because they will have much greater flexibility than they would if they were connected by cable, and they won’t have to contend with the limitations of other wireless systems or the inconvenience or danger of cabled connections,” Vainstein says.

Among the applications for the technology are in leisure diving, divers can take photos or video and transmit them back to the surface in real time; for industrial purposes, where divers, or underwater vehicles, both cabled and cable-less are sent on underwater data gathering missions; or for defense-related monitoring.

Founded in 2004, Sea-Eye has received assistance from the Ashkelon Technological Incubator under Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist, and Israel’s Administration for Research and Development of Fighting Means and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT).

The first Sea-Eye modems will be commercially available later this year: “There are about 20 million divers in the world,” Vainstein tells ISRAEL21c. “How many of them would rather dive free, without cables and without having to worry about losing communication with their ship?”

The answer is obvious: Sea-Eye is set to make a big splash in the world of underwater communications.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director